Bancha Extreme: Hallelujah!

Suzanne's Perfume Journal

October 14, 2011:

Hot august night and the leaves hanging down
and the grass on the ground smellin’ sweet
Move up the road to the outside of town

and the sound of that good gospel beat

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Vetiver and cedar: two notes that are either brilliant and scintillating on my skin or just the opposite, they sit there doing nothing until they curdle and sour. I have no idea what accounts for the difference, but whereas vintage Guerlain Vetiver, the fragrance revered by those who adore vetiver, ends up smelling brutal and sour on me, the perfume I’ve been sampling off and on for the past few weeks—Bancha Extreme, by perfumer Dawn Spencer Hurwitz—is clean and thrilling (two words I don’t normally couple when talking about perfume), so full of crackle and anticipation, I feel like I’m in a Neil Diamond song when I wear it.

Remember that song, Brother Love’s Travelling Salvation Show, with its feeling of lightning-rod readiness and the promise of deliverance? Though I usually bristle at anything that smacks of evangelical religion, one of the most memorable experiences of my life was when I was thirteen and had arrived fresh off the bus to Augusta, Maine, to stay with a farm family for a week as part of a 4-H exchange program. Aside from being briefly acquainted with one member of the family—a girl my age who had traveled to Pennsylvania the previous summer to stay with me—I knew little about my hosts but quickly discovered they were devout Baptists. My first night there, only hours after I got off the bus, they whisked me to a huge and elaborate auditorium where a gospel Revival was taking place—an event that was terrifying and exciting in equal measure: terrifying, of course, because it was the goal of this family who didn’t know me (but who were unimpressed by my Methodist upbringing) to quickly indoctrinate me into their fold and “save” me. The auditorium was packed to the rafters, and by the end of the night, people to the left and right of me were raising their hands and yelling “I want to be saved!” before making their way down to the stage, where the evangelical minister laid his hands on them and blessed them (and not in any quiet kind of way). I was a polite young girl, but the thought of approaching this man who looked and sounded like an Elvis Presley imitator (stripped of his rhinestones and wearing an ill-fitting polyester suit, but sporting sideburns and a microphone) made my stomach churn. My hosts kept urging me towards the stage, but luckily I had the wherewithal to ask them if Jesus had the power to save me right there on the spot, in the seat where I was sitting—and while they looked disappointed, they couldn’t (and didn’t) say no.

So that was the terrifying part, but I’d be a liar if I didn’t admit that this event was also as electrifying as any rock concert I’ve been to over the years. There was music—most of it live, loud and quite good; there was hand-clapping and bodies waving in unison and the minister’s booming and powerful speech in between songs, as well as moments of startling silence in between the crescendo of these other things. There was undeniable, awe-inspiring spirit there—and while one could simply denounce it as the collective energy and vocalizations of a mob, to do so strikes me as not entirely fair, because these people were really and truly having an ecstatic experience; they were, in other words, willing themselves towards ecstasy. And maybe I’m being naïve, but I believe that, unlike me, the majority of the people in that audience were there willingly, and that most of them were on a quest for something reassuringly beautiful. Their collective belief that such a thing existed was palpable, shiny and exciting; I still feel it, these many years later, whenever I hear Neil Diamond singing “Love, Brother Love, say Brother Love’s Travellin’ Salvation Show.” And I recall it when I put on Bancha Extreme.

There's a lime peel note in Bancha Extreme that is a real kicker—making this fragrance feel vibrantly high-pitched, expansive and capable of opening a third eye, if not starting a hallelujah chorus. This is lime like no other I’ve ever experienced in fragrance, similar in smell to the Kaffir lime leaves of Thai cooking: clear, clean and perfumey, never sharp or tart. Because it arrives under the cover of bergamot, one has to wait a minute for it to develop, but once this lime emerges it’s fully present and incredibly uplifting.

If I ticked off the entire list of notes in Bancha Extreme, I don’t think it would prove useful to this review (I will include them at the bottom of the page, anyway), because while Bancha Extreme’s formula is complex, the perfume itself has a focused and streamlined nature. I think of it as a lime, vetiver and cedar perfume, lightly accented with frankincense, because those are the notes that stand out to me. Throughout its development, Bancha Extreme is resolutely green; not grass green, nor even green-tea green, but the exotic and mystical smell of green that is vetiver at its best. Paired with a base accord comprised of a number of various wood notes, most prominent among them a gorgeous balsam-y cedar, the vetiver in Bancha Extreme calms as it dries down but never loses its sense of tautness.

I made the mistake of applying Bancha Extreme before I went to bed one evening while I was testing it, and its soaring and tonic character kept me awake for a good long time. I lay there thinking about my Baptist Revival experience, glad that I was able to see it for what it was—a well-staged show, like any other, in which humans try their best to achieve what singer-songwriter Lyle Lovett once wittily referred to as “an acceptable level of Ecstasy”—and glad, too, that I was not so jaded then or now as to be blind to the beauty of such an attempt.


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Bancha Extreme eau de parfum is an all-natural fragrance from the Parfums des Beaux Arts line of Colorado-based perfumer Dawn Spencer Hurwitz. It can be purchased from her website in prices ranging from $23 to $125 (as well as an individual sample for $5.25). My sample came from a package of fragrance goodies sent to me from fellow blogger Birgit.


Notes for Bancha Extreme include top notes of bergamot, green mandarin, lime peel, spearmint and yuzu; middle notes of centifolia rose, frankincense, Gunpowder green-tea accord, basil, jasmine, pine needle and lavender; and base notes of sandalwood, balsam fir, cabreuva wood, cedar, patchouli, vetiver and moss.

Lyrics excerpted from the Neil Diamond song Brother Love's Travelling Salvation Show, copyright © 1969 by Neil Diamond.